UWE Bristol expert says traffic free zones have transformed Leicester

Issue date: 04 October 2017

Traffic free zone in Leicester

The Centre for Transport and Society at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has launched a video telling the story of how Leicester reclaimed its city centre from motor traffic, after the damage inflicted on it during the 1960s and 70s.

Dr Steve Melia has researched traffic removal in cities since 2006. Traffic-free city centres are common in many European countries, particularly: France, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. Leicester is one of the best examples of this international trend here in Britain.

Konrad Smigielski, Leicester's Planning Officer in the 1960s and 70s oversaw a lot of road building and demolition but he also recognised the need to restrain and remove traffic from city centres. He didn't get very far with that at the time.

The first traffic removal began in the 1980s and has been continuing in recent years with the 'Connecting Leicester' project – a key programme for the current Mayor, Peter Soulsby.

The team interviewed the Mayor and members of the public who were mainly very positive about the changes, although there was also some criticism of the shared space streets.

Dr Steve Melia said, “No urban design is ever perfect. We did hear some criticism, particularly about this type of shared space, where people are meant to mix with traffic. In some other parts of the country shared space is becoming a growing threat to vulnerable pedestrians but these streets here in Leicester are essentially access roads. The volume and speed of traffic on them is pretty low.

“In the European cities that have been most successful in removing traffic and improving their city centres, two factors stand out. One is strong political leadership and the other is what I call the 'wow factor'. The kind of change that once people have seen it they won't want to go back.

“I can't imagine anyone seeing Leicester's Jubilee Square today, who would want to turn it back into a car park.”

View the video here

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